Crestone Eagle, October 2004:
Great Sand Dunes becomes a National
History made on September 13, 2004
by David Nicholas
“Today we dedicate and proclaim a
new national park, to forever preserve a landscape sculpted
by wind and water, and we introduce what now becomes the largest
wildlife refuge in the state of Colorado. This area is a haven
for wildlife and a wonder for modern day visitors.”
—Gale Norton, Secretary, US Department of the Interior.
when it was beginning to look like another two or three years
before the Sand Dunes would become a national park, suddenly
it was a done deal in just six days in mid-September. The
Baca Ranch changed ownership on Friday, September 10 from
Farallon’s Vaca Partners to The Nature Conservancy,
the interim owner for the Federal Government. And on September
13, the national monument was declared the Great Sand Dunes
National Park and Preserve.
The news of the dedication was broken at the Crestone meeting
of the Sand Dunes Advisory Council 5 days earlier. The Council
is responsible under the law, which created the National Park
in 2000, to present a management plan in three years or so.
The announcement came so suddenly that it caught all the interested
parties pretty much unawares. But on September 13, people
were all smiles at the Sand Dunes amphitheatre, where about
300 people applauded enthusiastically as speaker after speaker
spoke of the circumstances which brought about the National
Park and their role in them.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the nation’s
58th national park. Secretary Norton described the park as
“a living hourglass”. “The ebb and flow
of rushing wind and pulsing water sweeps sand across the landscape,
creating a natural sculpture worthy of permanent preservation,”
said Ms. Norton.
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell said that the park would
go a long way in protecting the water in the San Luis Valley
for generations to come. “The acquisition of the Baca
Ranch,” said Senator Campbell, “just about doubled
the size of the area inside the national park. I think after
all the fights I saw over the Baca and the water, it was really
the right thing to do.”
Congressman Scott McInnis, sponsor of the Sand Dunes bill
in the US House of Representatives, spoke of the fight to
bring the bill to the floor of the house to bring it to a
vote. “We had so many mountains to climb that it had
to be an accumulative effort,” he said. Mr. McInnis
said that the park was a grass-roots effort, one he was proud
Mark Burget, former Colorado director for The Nature Conservancy
and now director of its Global Priorities Group, thanked the
people of the San Luis Valley for "making history today."
Mr. Burget said the partnership involved is an example for
the rest of the world and will be used by The Nature Conservancy
Russell George, executive director of the Department of Natural
Resources, who succeeded former Director, Greg Walcher, said
the San Luis Valley has "once again shown us what tough
stuff you’re made of."
Mike Blenden, who manages the three national refuges in the
San Luis Valley, said the park is the result of a "small,
thoughtful group of people." In this group he cited Chris
Canaly for her efforts in bringing the park to fruition.
Colorado State Attorney General Ken Salazar and Sen. Wayne
Allard, R-Colorado, both sent representatives with their statements.
Mr. Salazar called Monday "a momentous day for my native
San Luis Valley and its people, for the State of Colorado,
and indeed the nation. The dream we Valley residents shared
and worked for beginning years ago, resulting in 2000’s
historic legislation authorizing the creation of this national
park, becomes a reality."
Senator Allard, who pushed the legislation in the U.S. Senate,
hailed "the dedication of the Great Sand Dunes National
Park as a tremendous triumph for the people of the San Luis
He added, "Our nation’s newest national park is
proof positive of what can be accomplished with local consensus.
This project was driven to success by the initiative of the
citizens of the San Luis Valley."
Feds take over despite legal issues
The declaration of the National Park occurs while there are
still legal issues outstanding. Peter Hornick a partner in
the now-defunct Cabeza de Vaca Land and Cattle Company, which
controlled the Baca Ranch while attempting to embark on a
water exportation plan, still has a claim on appeal, as does
American Water Development, Incorporated, who had a 10% interest
on all water sales the corporation had made. Both cases are
before the Colorado Supreme Court on appeal.
Steve Chaney said, at the advisory council meeting the previous
week, that the solicitor-general for the Department of the
Interior had reviewed the judgment made by Judge O. John Kuenhold
in the Saguache District Court. The Solicitor-General found
that the federal Government had very little to risk in assuming
liability on both cases and so issued a title waiver, clearing
the way for the purchase of the Baca Ranch by the Department
of the Interior to go through.
The Nature Conservancy is now the temporary owner of the
Baca Ranch until such time as the Federal Government provides
the remaining $3.4M to cover closing costs, which should be
included in the Federal Budget for 2005.
For now, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
prevents major water exportation from the San Luis Valley
for now and for generations to come. Dave Robbins, perhaps
the top lawyer in Colorado and certainly the leading authority
on water law in the state, who wrote the first draft of the
legislation, was asked how he felt about the national park
coming to fruition. “Very pleased,” he said, “very
Back to Archives
to the Eagle!